OS Cannabis Hearing Continued to Sept. 7
The Old Saybrook Zoning Commission (ZC) will hold a continuation of a public hearing over an application to open a retail marijuana dispensary at 233 Boston Post Road on Wednesday, Sept. 7. The public hearing for the application by Fine Fettle Dispensary opened earlier this month.
Last year, Connecticut legislators passed a bill legalizing recreational marijuana use by adults in the state. The bill left it up to local municipalities to control its sale in each town. Earlier this year the ZC passed new regulations that effectively banned retail marijuana stores everywhere except for the B-4 district and restricted it to businesses that received approval from the town prior to January 2022. Only two businesses received such approval, one being Fine Fettle.
Fine Fettle Dispensary filed a special exception application earlier this year to open a recreational use cannabis dispensary at 233 Boston Post Road. The application calls for no modifications to the outside of the building, only renovations to the inside of the building.
Per a statement of use from the applicant, “Operationally, the applicant anticipates approximately 15 to 23 employees will be on site during the hours of operation (Sunday to Saturday [from] 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.” The applicant said that deliveries will be made in vans and anticipated no tractor trailer deliveries. A comprehensive security system would also be put in place.
The application was reviewed and recommended for approval by the architectural review board and the planning commission. The public hearing for the ZC opened on Aug. 1.
The Commission voted to continue the hearing and asked the applicants to come to the Sept. 7 continuation of the hearing with clarified hours of operation since a rendering submitted by the applicant had different proposed hours than what was in the application. The Commission also asked for clarifications on where the employees would park and the location of a proposed bike rack.
At the first hearing, Fine Fettle Chief Operating Officer Ben Zachs outlined some of the plans for how the operation would work and tried to assuage some fears people may have about the dispensary.
Zachs said that the company would operate by only taking preorders and providing purchasers with a designated time frame to show up to get their purchase.
Upon arrival at the store, costumers would be met in the parking lot by a greeter who would then check identification and confirm appointment times. The customer would then be directed to a second window where identification is checked again and scanned. The customer would then buzz into the sales floor for a third identification check and then led to a cashier to confirm and pick up their order. Zachs said in total he estimates customers would spend between five and 10 minutes on site from pulling into the parking lot to leaving.
Zachs said the company operates other dispensaries in the state and said that the three big concerns people have are safety, traffic, and smells.
To address these concerns, Zachs said that nobody under the age of 21 is permitted insidethe store. Additionally, no loitering or consumption or open products are permitted on the premises. Gummies and “child focused marketing” also won’t be permitted per state law, Zachs said.
“It’s not like what they might show on TV or the news where people are like showing the products and they’re smelling it,” said Zachs.
Products are kept in a secure vault until the person comes for their pick-up time. All products are sold in child proof bags with discrete packaging. Employees would be trained in the process of recognizing signs of addiction and leaflets advertising ways to seek help would be placed by the registers.
Zachs said there would be 360-degree cameras and opaque windows. With a daycare located a short distance away from the property, Zachs said there would be no explicit marketing. Zachs said that strict advertising laws limit the kinds of signs or advertising people would see, allowing the building to blend in.
As for odor, Zachs said that the products are prepackaged and no smoking is allowed inside or outside on the property. As further precaution, odor mitigation systems would also be installedc inside the building. Once a purchase is completed Zachs said the customers would be told to leave the parking lot.
The traffic flow plan was a sticking point for some in the community. The property is located at the intersection of Boston Post Road and Springbrook Road and close to an entrance to Interstate 95.
Zachs said the company was expecting an initial demand of about 55 purchases per hour before tapering down to around 40 purchases per hour after the novelty of the business wore off. That would add hundreds of cars per day entering the intersection, thought the applicants argued it would not be noticeable.
Members of both the Commission and public pointed out that particular section of road is notorious for congestion, near misses, and accidents. Consulting firm SLR conducted an initial traffic assessment – which is different than a complete traffic study - and only studied the three-year period from 2019 through 2021. That assessment said that “This initial assessment, however, would indicate that trip generation will be moderate, and parking should be adequate to accommodate the peak demands once established. Further, there were no safety concerns identified and none would be created or exacerbated.”
Data from the Connecticut Crash Data Repository said that no crashes in the intersection occurred during that time period.
Some, however, disagreed with that assessment, as well as other statements by the applicants. Chief of Police Michael Spera read a lengthy statement into the record during the meeting outlining what he called “grave public safety concerns” should the application be approved. While Zachs and agent for the application attorney Amy Souchuns pointed to studies showing that crime decreases around cannabis dispensaries, Spera countered that he has heard from law enforcement members across the country that dispensaries have attracted crime as well as led to an increase in people driving under the influence or requiring medical attention.
On the subject of traffic specifically, Spera wrote in part that “The area in which this ’business’ proposes to operate is simply not conducive for increased vehicular or pedestrian traffic in the matter it is currently designed. In fact, it is currently one of the town intersections where frequent accidents occur. Vehicular traffic entering and exiting the existing parking lot on a reoccurring basis will create added dangers for motorists.”
Spera went on to note that the applicant’s traffic study didn’t account for Springbrook Road being an access and exit for I-95. When the highway is backed up cars are rerouted through the town and the intersection becomes busier so police intervention is often required, Spera said.
Spera also stated in his letter that he feels “…the first business seen by visitors as they stop at their first stop sign in Old Saybrook after exiting I-95 should not be a marijuana dispensary. This type of business does not represent the character, ethics, and moral compass of the Town of Old Saybrook.”
Despite the applicant’s insistence that no customers are allowed to smoke on the property and no open products allowed, in his letter Spera noted the close proximity of residential areas and Beach Babies Day Care Center to the business and said the smell of marijuana could bother those residents.
Spera closed his letter by arguing that, if approved, the location of a dispensary would lead to an increase in police presence in the area to ensure compliance with local, state, and federal laws as well as well patrol for any accidents or crimes that occur in the area. This increase in patrols would come with an associated cost increase to the town for police services, Spera said.
“If the Commission desires to entertain the application, it is imperative that an intendant traffic study, by our own engineer be conducted, and that my traffic related concerns be addressed in the study before any final decision are made. However, and most importantly, because my primary concern every day as your chief of police is the health, safety, and welfare of our community, I must respectfully and strongly encourage you to deny this application,” Spera wrote in closing.
Besides Spera, Heather McNeil from the Old Saybrook Youth and Family Services and Erica Cosenza spoke in opposition to the application the meeting. Chris Costa, the town’s zoning enforcement officer, said that the commission had received multiple letters both for and opposed to the application. All letters can be read in full on the town website on the ZC’s page.
The Economic Development Commission sent a letter neither opposing or endorsing the application, but encouraged the ZC to take into account the potential economic and employment benefits of the application. Due to restrictions from the state, Old Saybrook would be limited to only one retail establishment until 2024 because of its population. If a retail cannabis shop is allowed in town, Old Saybrook would receive a three percent tax from all sales.
In response to the opposition, Zachs told the Commission that he would be willing to work with the police and relevant agencies to alleviate any concerns about opening weekend demand or public safety. Souchuns said that the applicants had offered to meet with Spera prior to the ZC meeting, but Spera said he had opted not to meet with them before addressing the commission with his concerns.
Zachs told the Harbor News earlier this year that the company operates three of the 18 medical dispensaries currently in the state and reiterated a commitment to safety.
“This is not our first rodeo. Our facilities are incredibly safe and secure we have our operation set to what we’re comfortable doing,” said Zachs at the time.
At the continuation of the public hearing members of the public will be able to speak in favor, in opposition, or neutrally on the application.